Georgia’s Javon Bullard ‘can’t wait to get back between those hedges’

ATHENS — There is a little extra bounce in Javon Bullard’s step this week. It’s football season, which for him means he gets to hit somebody else for a change.

To be clear, the Georgia Bulldogs have been hitting each other a lot over the past month. Their daily injury report confirms it.

“We hit hard every day,” Bullard said after practice Tuesday night. “I mean, it’s real physical out there.”

That part of preseason practice is now over. After 24 practices, the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs turn their attention to Saturday’s season opener against Tennessee-Martin at Sanford Stadium (6 p.m., SEC Network+).

For a myriad of reasons, that excites Bullard, a junior defensive back from Milledgeville, to no end.

“A lot of juice, man, a lot of juice,” said Bullard, who was named Georgia’s defensive MVP in both their College Football Playoff wins last season. “I was just excited to see some college football this past weekend. It was huge for me just to watch it on TV. We haven’t even played yet, but it’s coming.”

Also supplying energy for Bullard is an offseason position change. The Bulldogs first experimented in the spring with moving Bullard from the nickel-back role at which he flourished so mightily last season. Days before the 2023 opener, it’s clear that switch is going to stick.

Bullard will line up next to sophomore Malaki Starks in the defense’s deep third, while senior Tykee Smith steps in at the rover back position the Bulldogs call “star.”

In coach Kirby Smart’s system, the safety roles are interchangeable depending on down, distance and situation. Bullard thrived as a middle-of-the-field single safety at Baldwin County High, but at Georgia he’s generally operating as a strong safety. That places a high priority on run support while providing dependable pass coverage.

Bullard has thoroughly enjoyed the change.

“Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m 100% (committed) to doing that,” Bullard said. “So, I love it, playing with a great group of guys and a great defense. I’m really just adapting to the new role and trying to find new ways to play within the system and just make plays when my number’s called.”

By all accounts, the transition has gone swimmingly. As Smart pointed out earlier in camp, it’s truly a more natural position for Bullard and one for which he was recruited to Georgia in the first place.

But as all Georgia’s safeties can tell you, it is the position Smart played at Georgia. So did safeties coach Will Muschamp, for that matter.

So, naturally, that brings with it more scrutiny – and criticism. Like Dominick Sanders, J.R. Reed, Richard LeCounte, Lewis Cine and Christopher Smith did before him, Bullard tends to hear his name blaring out from Smart’s ever-present microphone every day.

“He’s been in my ear a lot,” Bullard said with toothy grin. “I look forward to him giving me advice, trying to really dial in on it and take it from the meeting to the field. I had my game called today. I don’t care who you are, you’re gonna get that mic every day!”

Bullard’s move was made possible by senior Tykee Smith’s continued development – and good health – at the star position. Early on, freshman Joenel Aguero seemed to be flourishing in that roles as well, but an injury sidelined him for the second half of preseason camp. The Bulldogs continue to roll several other defensive backs in and out of the position, Bullard included.

But for him, the move to safety looks to be a permanent one. Now, with only a matter of days separating him and the Bulldogs from the first game, Bullard is excited to demonstrate his progress rather than continue to talk about it.

“Knowing we get to played somebody else is exciting as a team,” Bullard said. “I can’t wait to get back between those hedges.”